This week the issue of gun control is once again, for the most tragic reasons, in the national spotlight. As shock and grief over the massacre in Orlando has given way to anger, many Americans are asking why Congress has not acted more forcefully to prevent the tragedy. Online and on social media, dozens of petitions have proliferated advocating for various approaches to making change and thousands of well-intentioned Americans have signed on. The trouble is, they make very little difference.
While petitions are a feel-good and largely effort free mode of civic engagement, anyone if you want to see action from lawmakers, your time is better spent elsewhere. Petitions, regardless of the number of signatures, have very little impact on the decision elected lawmakers make. That's because lawmakers view themselves as most accountable to constituents in their district. Unless a member of congress sees a petition and all the signers are verified residents of their district, it's likely to be ignored.
So what works?
I was on Capital Hill, visiting Senate offices when the Democratic Filibuster on gun control began. And while it was a historic moment, it was also, in some ways, a moment lost. In the offices I visited, it was generally business as usual. There was no urgent rush of answering demanding constituents calling in or emailing en masse. It may be of course that it took some time before news of the filibuster spread but I also believe that most Americans are not aware of the power they have to influence members of congress on any given day.
Had the thousands of Americans who signed petitions instead spent 5 minutes calling their elected officials, the response from Congress might well have been quicker and more meaningful. If Americans really want progress on issues that matter, they must flood the offices of their elected officials with calls, emails, letters and yes, even visits.
Your voice, your issues, your opinions matter. You just need to know how to make it heard!
Staffers log every call that Congress receives from a constituent into a tracking system that aggregates and sorts the calls received. Members look at that data to gauge and follow what matters to the people they are elected to serve. And because many Congressional offices are relatively small, often staffed with just a few young people, when the phones start ringing off the hook, everyone pays attention. The most prominent members like Paul Ryan usually have calls routed to an answering service because of the volume, but most members have their calls taken the old fashioned way.
Few Americans understand some of the simplest tools of power available to them. This is why we launched the All In Together Campaign to teach women especially how to have a voice and speak up effectively in our political process. Our Action center links citizens directly to their representatives and allows you to write, call or visit your elected official to voice your opinion. While it may seem like only the rich and powerful have a voice these days, it's really not true. Your voice, your issues, your opinions matter. You just need to know how to make it heard!
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